Strategy for the Beginners

This article is an attempt to awaken the beginners to the ideas which are crucial in the preparation for Civil Services Examination. In fact we intend to focus upon some practical realities of the preparation. Much has been written on how to prepare for the Civil Service Examination but little attention has been given to the fundamental facets of preparation in the beginning. This article provides answers to a good number of questions which bewilder the beginners.

The beginners have varied perceptions about the preparation and a good number of them are not aware of the realities of the same. They begin but on wrong lines, they go astray and meet failures in initial attempts. It takes them a year or years to be conscious of the realities and that too, at the cost of some attempts. Some take attempts without preparation just to gain some experiences because they do not have a good guide to suggest them that attempts are precious and must not be wasted this way. This article has relevance in the above-mentioned context.

All the beginners have a great problem when they embark upon the preparation that is how to begin. We provide you step-by-step guidelines as regards how to go in for the preparation for the Civil Services Examination.

1. Buy the prospectus which is available in a booklet form in those bookshops which sell books & guides on competitive exams. It contains all the information required.

2. Go through it and know the pattern of the examination well.

3. a. Go through the syllabus of the optional subjects — consider four things in selection of optional subjects.

i. The Subject interests you
ii. You have familiarity or background
iii. Subjects help you in General Studies
iv. You get proper guidance for them (the most important)

b. Buy the booklets containing previous years' questions of those subjects and go through them. Proper idea of the questions will also help you decide the optional subject.

4. Buy booklets of previous years' questions of General Studies, (Both Prelim & Main) and Languages (Hindi & English) and be well-aware of the pattern of the questions.

5. After doing all these you come to know all about the examination, the subjects, the nature of questions and of course what you have to study. This way, you take the first step in the direction of preparation which is very significant.

6. Study on the basis of the syllabus and previous years' questions. Just do not finish topics, as this is eventually meaningless and make sure that study enables you to write good and standard answers. This is the essence of preparation.

7. Practise writing answers. Create answer formats of typical questions and get the help of a guide.

8. Join any coaching after considering point (1) to (4). Coaching before these considerations would not be meaningful. On the basis of (1) to (4) you would be in a position to assess the significance of the coaching. In reality, coaching helps you in your preparation when it makes you comprehend topics, makes available to you standard study material and the most significantly it enables you to write good & standard answers. And if you just work on topics and finish them in coaching classes, it has no value finally when you are writing examination.

New aspirants are usually in a dilemma in selecting the optional subject. After embarking upon the preparation this state of dilemma is quite natural. Impact of mixed opinions like opinion on the part of the friends, seniors, teachers, coaching institute etc bewilder them and they are not in a position to take a right decision. Opinions are at times influenced by individual outlook, at times by wrong perception, at times by personal experiences, at times by prejudice or bias and at times by vested interests.

We are presenting some of these opinions, which new aspirants come across and which do not have any rational basis. We are presenting the explanation and the rational basis related to such opinions as well.

1. Some subjects are very lengthy and their preparation takes a lot of time.
The truth is that the syllabus of almost all subjects is equally vast and comprehensive. The UPSC does not discriminate among subjects. The commission has determined a standard for each subject and has incorporated all important topics into the syllabus of each subject. All popular subjects selected by the candidates like History, Sociology, Geography, Public Administration, Political Science etc. have comprehensive syllabus.

One popular basis to determine the length of the syllabus of any subject is the area it covers or columns it covers in the Employment News or in any other information booklets. Syllabus of some subjects cover two-three columns, whereas some cover just one column or half the column. This is completely irrational. Coverage of area / column depends on the way syllabus is presented (like if only major topics are mentioned this will cover less area while if topics, sub-topics and description of topics are given it will cover more area). If you pay attention to it, you will find the same as truth.

2. Some subjects are more scoring like Public Administration or some are not like Commerce & Accountancy.
The truth is that the Commission / Examiner does not discriminate among subjects in giving marks. Fetching of good marks solely depends upon one's performance, not the subject. One can get good marks in any subject. The results of the Civil Services Examination every year too establish the same fact.

The only rational criteria for the subjects being more scoring or less scoring is the stream they are associated with. Subjects associated with science may be more scoring than those of humanities because of greater objectivity. Likewise subjects from humanities may be more scoring than literature.

3. One should not opt for subjects like Commerce & Accountancy, Economics, Anthropology, English Literature, Medical Science etc. because candidates do not get marks in these subjects or candidates do not qualify with these subjects

The truth is that one can opt for any subject, provided one fulfills certain criteria (we shall describe later). Basis of selection is not subject rather performance in a particular subject.

One should give a serious thought to the selection of the optional subject. A wrong decision in the beginning might prove an obstacle in one's success. There are a good number of candidates who are capable of qualifying but only because of wrong selection of the optional subjects they eventually fail. Don't be in a hurry in selection, consider properly and give time to it.

There are certain rational criteria for selecting the optional subjects. We are putting them forward in point form.

1. Every subject is good.

2. The syllabus of almost every subject is equally lengthy and demand equal amount of labour.

3. The syllabus of all popular subjects like History, Geography, Political Science etc. are equally vast.

4. One can get a high level of marks (required to make one successful) in all subjects through proper guidance and adequate labour.

5. One may take into consideration one's interests in the subject but this is not important. Success of many candidates has proved it.

6. One might take into consideration one's background in the subject.

7. Go through the syllabus and previous years' questions of the subjects, you are considering to opt.

8. One might take into consideration the fact that to what extent the optional subject help a candidate in General Studies. Subjects like History, Public Administration, Political Science etc. play significant role in this context.

9. The most important criteria is the guidance one gets in the subject. Guidance makes subject easy and enables candidates to write standard answers. Experiences of a large number of candidates have established the truth that any subject is a good subject provided one gets a good guidance for that subject.

10. A good guidance does not mean teaching of topics, rather teaching in such a way so that one comprehends all the topics, one has adequate and quality content and more significantly one is in a position to write good & standard answers.
One has to perceive the meaning of real preparation. Real preparation does not mean attending classes, procuring study material packages and finishing the syllabus.

Real preparation has an altogether different connotation - it has to be a meaningful preparation. One need to understand finer aspects of preparation — that is, to develop comprehension of questions, to develop approach to write answers, to practise answer-writing etc.

Meaningful and effective preparation which makes one attain qualifying level subsumes various facets

1. Planning the preparation
2. Formulation of strategy
3. Guidance for preparation of compulsory subject
4. Adequate & revised study material packages
5. Analysis of questions
6. Expected topics / questions for forthcoming examinations
7. Answer - formats
8. Information related to strategy & approach
9. Information related to approach to answer-writing
10. Evaluation of answers.

Requirements for Preparation
Success in Civil Services Examination calls for a holistic development. We want to put forward some suggestions in this connection.

1. Study all the relevant topics of various subjects, develop broader understanding.
2. Prepare topics on the basis of the trends & nature of the questions.
3. Create answer-formats in point form so that they prove handy in revising things.
4. Develop approach to writing. Think over ways & presentation of answers. Take the help of some guides.
5. Practise answer-writing and get them evaluated.
6. Develop a good language & expression so that you might write good answers.

Relevance of General Studies
In the overall preparation, pay attention to General Studies on a long term basis because of the nature of syllabus, trends of the questions and the significance of the subject.

General Studies have emerged as a challenge in recent years. There was change in GS syllabus in 2007-08 which made is more comprehensive & complicated. Then the year 2009 onwards, there has been a drastic change in the nature of the questions. The conventional types of questions have ceased to occur in the examination.

Finally in the year 2012-13 the syllabus has been restructured. Two papers consisting of 600 marks substituted by four papers consisting of 1000 marks.

Because of changes in the syllabus & changes in the nature of the questions, traditional teaching by most of the GS institutes has lost relevance since 2008-09. Students began to get 100-250 level of marks out of 600 (including top rankers). Most began to qualify on the basis of higher mearks in two optional subjects consisting of 1200 marks.

But now, there is only one optional subject of 500 marks and GS of 1000 marks, reliance on optional subjects as in previous pattern has lost meaning. The only choice is to improve GS and try to obtain higher level of marks out of 1000 marks.

So, now there is an urgent need to consider greater reliance on GS in new pattern.

Please do not prepare GS (Main) and GS (Preliminary) seperately or GS (Preliminary) first and then GS (Main). The syllabus of GS (Main) and GS (Preliminary) has a vast overlap, many topics are same, linkages are very dominant etc., So one should not seperate the preparation.

Preparation for Optional Subject
Preparation of the optional subject calls for somewhat different orientation. We are putting forward certain points below which are relevant in this context :

1. First study the entire topics of the syllabus just to develop ideas about them.
2. Develop conception about the inter-connections and relation among the topics wherever required.
3. Pick up all relevant topics from examination standpoint on the basis of the number and type of questions put in the examination.
4. Prepare the relevant topics taking into consideration the kinds of questions put or may be put in the examination. Take help of a guide.
5. To take different kind of questions into account is important in the preparation; for only on this basis you will be competent to write good answers which is key to getting good marks.
6. Prepare notes in brief or in point-form where topic or question is typical or intricate.
7. Try to learn approach to write various kind of questions. Take help of a guide.
8. Practise answer-writing and get them evaluated. For this purpose you may pick up questions from previous years. Take help of a guide.

About Writing
Without writing, preparation becomes meaningless. Writing is in fact a part of the total preparation. In General Studies, optional subject and Essay, effective writing plays a vital role. We are giving below certain tips on good writing. Candidates should follow them and put them into practice.

1. Read standard books — collect standard information.
2. Express in you own language — your answers should give impression that they are your creation.
3. Elements of bias or prejudice must be absent from your writing.
4. When you critically examine, you must examine a fact in the light of socio-economic-politico circumstances — this would give your answer a moderate tinge.
5. Use effective language but do not make it verbose.
6. Write a simple answer — do not use very long sentences and paragraphs.
7. Split your answers in various paragraphs — change paragraph when you shift to a new subject-matter.
8. Do not quote views, opinions etc. frequently — at times you can quote from original work.
9. Give major points of your answer in separate paragraphs and put all the minor points in one paragraph at the end. — try to give as many points as you can.
10. You need not write a lengthy introduction — write the main body of the answer and a good and very effective conclusion is required — in the answers where you analyse or critically examine.
11. While writing, make sure your handwriting is legible — do not be under the impression that whatever way you write the examiner would make all efforts to go through that — help the examiners read your answers comfortably.
12. Do not exceed the word limit — 200 words, may be 210 or 215, not more than that in any case.
13. Your answer must not lose coherence — points should be in order so that the whole answer presents a balanced and integrated view.
14. Practise writing answers of model questions and get them evaluated.

And finally a piece of advice, that is, hard and diligent work is a boon. Develop a habit of sustained reading. Do study on a regular basis but be sure that you are doing this on right lines.